In April 2004, Auburn AD, Hal Baird offered a WNBA Coach the opportunity to become the fifth head coach in the history of Auburn Women's Basketball. The Indiana Fever Coach accepted and in so doing, she did what most coaches are afraid to do - follow a coaching legend.
After all Joe Ciampi was the winn-ingest basketball coach in Auburn history. No other basketball coach (men's or women) could match Ciampi's 568 career victories. Most would have been intimidated at the prospect - but not Nell Fortner. Nell Fortner has never backed away from a challenge.
Born in Jackson, Mississippi, she spent her early childhood moving around until her family settled in New Braunfels, Texas, where she was an All-State basketball player and a Parade All-American at New Braunfels High School.
She went on to the University of Texas on a dual scholarship in basketball and volleyball; setting individual scoring records and helping the school win a national volleyball championship.
Her name is still revered in that state where she was named in 2001 to the Texas Sports Hall of Fame.
In a day when high salaries have turned most college coaches into gunslingers who sell their services to the highest bidder, Fortner is a refreshing throw back to the time that coaches actually loved their school.
And make no mistake, Nell Fortner loves Auburn University. She has become an Auburn Woman through and through.
She has been a fan favorite precisely because she has worn that love for Auburn on her sleeve. Most will always remember the way she stood up for Cam Newton and told the media, "This is our family ... (and) enough is enough."
Yes Nell has built enough cred with the Auburn Family that she could have stayed despite a down year, but in the end it was her love for Auburn that may have prompted her to step aside and retire.
Just three years removed from winning an SEC Championship, Auburn is experiencing a losing season. Instead of trying to hold on to her job, she has put what she believes is best for her school ahead of what is best for her. That my friend is the definition of class.
She coached her last regular season game Sunday when Auburn defeated Ole Miss 46-43 in the Auburn Arena. Tomorrow she will lead her Tigers into the SEC Tournament for the last time.
Hopefully Auburn University will find a way to continue to use this great ambassador. For her part Nell has made it clear she is willing to do what ever she can for Auburn.
She said in her retirement announcement,
" I absolutely love Auburn ... I love this community, and I plan on being here and being a big Auburn fan. I love the Auburn family, and I'll stay in the Auburn family that way."
We love you too coach and we're grateful, both for all you have done for Auburn student athletes and for Auburn University. Although you will be missed on the court, we're very glad your going to stay in the Auburn family. Godspeed and War Eagle!
While it's true that all Auburn people know the Nell Fortner name, I'm not so sure that all have a perspective of just how good a coach the Women's Basketball Program is losing.
We have included a summary, after the jump, of some of her accomplishments in the more than 30 years of playing and coaching the game she loves.
Nell Fortner has been honored every where she has been.
Her distinguished career includes :
* Texas All-State Basketball selection
* High school Parade All-American
* Inducted into Texas High School Hall of Fame.
* Led Texas to its first national ranking in women's basketball and a seventh-place finish at the AIAW national tournament.
* She still ranks among the top 10 in scoring in college and her 142 games played rank her fourth in Texas history.
* Played on National Collegiate Volleyball Championship team.
* Won a silver medal in USA Basketball in 1978.
* Inducted into University of Texas Athletics Wall of Honor in 2000.
* Recognized with the Distinguished Alumnus Award. after coaching at Stephen F Austin.
* Coached as an assistant at LA. Tech when the Techsters played in five NCAA Tournaments including the 1994 National Championship Game
* Led Purdue (as head coach) to a Big Ten Championship in 1996-97.
* Led Purdue to NCAA tournament.
* Named Big Ten Coach of the Year - 1997.
* Named the National Coach of the Year by the Basketball Times - 1997.
* Named the 2000 USA Basketball Coach of the Year.
* Inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in 2001
* Led Team USA to a 101-14 (.878) record, the most wins of any coach in Women's USA Basketball history.
* Named the first head coach and general manager of the expansion franchise Indiana Fever of the WNBA - 1999
* Led Auburn to two NCAA Tournaments (2008 and 2009).
* Led Auburn to two WNIT's (2007and 2011).
* Led Auburn to a 30-4 record and best season in 20 years (2009).
* Led Auburn to 2009 SEC Championship.
* Named the SEC Coach of the Year in 2008-09.
* Named National Coach of the Year by the Basketball Times 2008-2009.